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YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY WHAT’S IN A NAME? THE POWER OF AUSTIN’S PERFORMATIVE APPLIED TO CHANGES IN IDENTITY IN RUY BLAS AND CYRANO DE BERGERAC WILLIAM BRADLEY HOLLEY IN How to do Things with Words, John Austin shows that words and language have the power to do more than just communicate; they actually have the power to change reality, a notion that challenged, in his words, “the assumption of philosophers that the business of a ‘statement ’ can only be to ‘describe’ some state of affairs” (1). It is through Austin’s influence that language and communication are no longer defined solely as true or false descriptions. Language also acts or performs . Austin names utterances that go beyond the former concept of communication ‘performative’ utterances or illocutionary acts and these words, in certain circumstances, are empowered to incite changes. One is not just speaking in the performative, creating sound waves or conveying a perfunctory message, but accomplishing acts that have changing effects upon other elements. Two fiancées, to borrow Austin’s famous example, are changed to a married couple once a wedding officiator declares “I now pronounce you man and wife” (Austin 5). With Austin’s explanation of the performative, I propose that in the act of giving a new name in certain nineteenth-century plays, the rechristening utterance redefines the individual receiving the name and thus creates a new identity. As characters don new identities through new names, other characters see them altogether differently. The protagonists in fact perceive themselves as changed, as do the readers or, as the case may be, spectators. Turning attention to Victor Hugo’s 1839 Ruy Blas, and to Edmond Rostand’s 1893 Cyrano de Bergerac, I propose to show that the utterance of a new name engenders new identity, with the attendant purpose of promoting the republican ideal of equality. YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY 173 Well before Austin coined the term and developed the notion, authors and playwrights had made ample use of the performative. Nineteenth -century French writers, who were surrounded by revolutions, revolts, coups d’état and class struggles, made use of the performative with relation to the identity of an individual. It is no surprise that with the constant changes in value placed on nobility, the bourgeoisie and the popular masses, characters such as Edmond Dantes and Jean Valjean emerge respectively as the Count of Monte-Cristo and Father Madeleine. Speaking of nineteenth-century theatrical performances and the social critiquing they stage, Susan McCready writes: “As characters in these plays don disguises, play roles and stage plays-within-the-play to arrive at their ends, we can chart out the possible trajectories of performance and begin to make an argument about how performance responds to the deeper anxieties informing Romantic theatre and nineteenth -century culture” (4). It is clear that the theater of this period was influenced by and responding to the life and culture that surrounded it. Ostensibly, these name changes are as good as lies: And yet in ideological terms, there is more happening behind the proverbial scene as the characters masquerade with new names and accomplish unforeseeable acts while wearing their masks. It is within the first act of Ruy Blas that the central figure is given his new name. Through his master Don Salluste, Ruy Blas is given the identity of his master’s cousin, Don César, a nobleman of Spain who has been in hiding for some ten odd years. Don Salluste renames Ruy Blas in the presences of other nobles, a performative act by which Don Salluste denies other nobles a chance to have an impression of Ruy Blas without the title of ‘don’. “Souffrez qu’à votre grâce je présente, marquis, mon cousin don César, Comte de Garofa près de Velalcazar” he says to le Marquis del Basto (1.5). Then to quiet any possible protestations from Ruy Blas he adds in a whisper “Taisez-vous!” and “Laissez-vous faire. Saluez” (1.5). Don Salluste manages Ruy Blas in such a way as to ensure that the new identity is respected and recognized by the others. With this new title, Ruy Blas is now able to speak to the other nobles on equal...


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pp. 173-179
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